Is China’s Economy Stabilising? Why September’s Data May Disappoint. - Kanebridge News
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Is China’s Economy Stabilising? Why September’s Data May Disappoint.

By RESHMA KAPADIA
Fri, Sep 29, 2023 2:01pmGrey Clock 2 min

China’s economic recovery isn’t gaining the momentum money managers are awaiting.

Data from China Beige Book show that the economic green shoots glimpsed in August didn’t sprout further in September. Job growth and consumer spending faltered, while orders for exports came in at the lowest level since March, according to a monthly flash survey of more than 1,300 companies the independent research firm released Thursday evening.

Consumers’ initial revenge spending after Covid restrictions eased could be waning, the results indicate, with the biggest pullbacks in food and luxury items. While travel remains a bright spot ahead of the country’s Mid-Autumn Festival, hospitality firms and chain restaurants saw a sharp decline in sales, according to the survey.

And although policy makers have shown their willingness to stabilize the property market, the data showed another month of slower sales and lower prices in both the residential and commercial sectors.

Even more troubling are the continued problems at Evergrande Group, which has scuttled a plan to restructure itself, raising the risk of a liquidation that could further destabilise the property market and hit confidence about the economy. The embattled developer said it was notified that the company’s chairman Hui Ka Yan, who is under police watch, is suspected of committing criminal offences.

Nicole Kornitzer, who manages the $750 million Buffalo International Fund (ticker: BUIIX), worries about a “recession of expectations” as confidence continues to take a hit, discouraging people and businesses from spending. Kornitzer has only a fraction of the fund’s assets in China at the moment.

Before allocating more to China, Kornitzer said, she needs to see at least a couple quarters of improvement in spending, with consumption broadening beyond travel and dining out. Signs of stabilisation in the housing market would be encouraging as well, she said.

She isn’t alone in her concern about spending. Vivian Lin Thurston, manager for William Blair’s emerging markets and China strategies, said confidence among both consumers and small- and medium-enterprises is still suffering.

“Everyone is still out and about but they don’t buy as much or buy lower-priced goods so retail sales aren’t recovering as strongly and lower-income consumers are still under pressure because their employment and income aren’t back to pre-COVID levels,” said Thurston, who just returned from a visit to China.

“A lot of small- and medium- enterprises are struggling to stay afloat and are definitely taking a wait-and-see approach on whether they can expand. A lot went out of business during Covid and aren’t back yet. So far the stimulus measures have been anemic.”

Beijing needs to do more, especially to stabilise the property sector, Thurston said. The view on the ground is that more help could come in the fourth quarter—or once the Federal Reserve is done raising rates.

The fact that the Fed is raising rates while Beijing is cutting them is already putting pressure on the renminbi. If policy makers in China wait until the Fed is done, that would alleviate one source of pressure before their fiscal stimulus adds its own.



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Retailers see nascent sales boost fuelled by people switching to smaller sizes; ‘not something we’ve seen before’

By SUZANNE KAPNER
Mon, Jun 17, 2024 4 min

Apparel retailers are discovering that weight loss is their gain.

While blockbuster drugs like Ozempic that lead to significant weight loss have dented demand for diet plans and caused food companies to prepare for people eating less, clothing sellers are finding that millions of slimmed-down Americans want to buy new clothes.

The newly svelte aren’t just restocking their wardrobes, many are also gravitating to more body-hugging shapes and risqué designs, according to industry executives and shoppers. Some brands are responding by replacing zippers with adjustable corsets and adding more sheer looks.

The nascent downsizing is happening across brands and types of garments. Industry executives said that they can’t be certain weight-loss medicine is the cause, but added that the shift is unlike anything they have seen. It is also an about-face from recent years, when many retailers rushed to add larger sizes to accommodate Americans’ growing girth.

About 5% of Lafayette 148’s customers are buying new outfits because they have lost weight, often replacing their size 12 clothes with size 6 or 8, according to Deirdre Quinn , the brand’s chief executive. The benefit is twofold; in addition to boosting sales, Lafayette 148 is saving money because smaller sizes use less fabric, Quinn said.

More customers of clothing rental company Rent the Runway are switching to smaller sizes than at any time in the past 15 years, said Jennifer Hyman , co-founder and CEO. These customers are also showing more of a willingness to experiment with different styles such as cutouts and other body-baring features. “When you are more comfortable in your skin, you are more willing to try edgier looks,” she said.

For Maggie Rezek, getting dressed used to be about hiding her extra weight in oversize shirts and baggy pants. Since she lost 60 pounds on semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, the 32-year-old, who handles marketing for a beauty salon, has splurged on a new wardrobe. Now, her staples consist of crop tops and jean shorts. She has traded in her sneakers for kitten heels. She even documents her outfits on social media.

“Before, I was insecure about my body,” said Rezek, who lives in Indianapolis. “Now, I feel like I fit better in clothes. That gives me the confidence to dress up and be more stylish.”

Some 15.5 million people, or 6% of U.S. adults, say they have tried injectable weight loss drugs to slim down, according to a survey of more than 5,500 Americans conducted in March by polling company Gallup. Nearly three-quarters of current users said the drugs—a class known as GLP-1 that were originally developed to treat diabetes—are effective or extremely effective in helping them shed pounds.

Weight-loss drugs don’t work for everyone and the cost can sometimes exceed $1,000 a month, limiting the market. The full price isn’t always covered by insurance. Moreover, people struggle to keep the weight off once they stop using the drugs.

Still, some companies expect the market for these drugs will be big enough that they are shifting course. WW International , formerly known as Weight Watchers, acquired a subscription service that offers telehealth visits with doctors who can prescribe drugs like Ozempic. Nestlé is introducing a new food line this year designed for people taking weight-loss medication.

Clothing companies could use a boost. Apparel sales fell 4% in the 12 months that ended in April compared with the same period a year earlier, according to market research firm Circana, as people give priority to their spending on necessities.

Coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, Amarra, which sells evening gowns and other formal wear in 800 retailers in the U.S., Canada and Australia, saw increased demand for larger sizes. Now, that trend has reversed.

“Over the past year, our retailers have been telling us they need smaller sizes,” said Abhi Madan, Amarra’s co-founder and creative director. Amarra, which is based in Freehold, N.J., has added sizes as small as 000. He says he is also selling more sizes in the 0-8 range and fewer in the plus-size range of 18-24.

Madan said the shift is changing the way Amarra designs dresses. It is replacing zippers with lace-up corsets, which can more easily accommodate shifting weights because the laces can be tightened or loosened. It is also adding more sheer side panels that give a figure-hugging look.

AllStar Logo, which sells polo shirts, fleece jackets and other gear to large companies, has seen demand for its largest sizes fall by half over the past year, according to Edmond Moss , its sales director.

“We used to sell a lot of fleece jackets in extra, extra large,” Moss said. “Now everything has gone down by at least one size.”

Sales of the three largest sizes of women’s button-down shirts fell 10.9% in the first three months of 2024 compared with the same period in 2022 at a dozen brands, according to Impact Analytics, which helps retailers manage their inventory and size allocations.

Sales of those same button-down shirts in the three smallest sizes grew 12.1% over that period. Impact Analytics analysed purchases in physical stores located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It focused its research on this area because it has the highest concentration of individuals in New York City taking these drugs specifically for weight loss, according to market research firm Trilliant Health.

A similar trend played out for women’s dresses and sweaters, as well as men’s polo shirts, sweatshirts and T-shirts, according to Impact Analytics.

Prashant Agrawal , Impact Analytics’ founder and CEO, said it wasn’t possible to know if the size changes resulted from people losing weight or a shift in clothing styles, but added that such a pronounced shift is unusual. “It’s not something we’ve seen before,” he said.

Some executives are worried that the shift could reduce demand for plus-size clothes.

“I’m trying to figure out what we have to worry about in the future,” said Doug Wood , the chief executive of clothing retailer Tommy Bahama, noting that as more people lose weight it could hurt sales of its “Big & Tall” collection designed for very large men.

Jillian Sterba went from a size 6 to a size 10 after the birth of her child. When the weight didn’t come off with diet and exercise, she started injections of semaglutide in October. Since then, Sterba, who is 36 and lives in Austin, has lost 35 pounds. She is now a size 4. “Almost half my clothes are not wearable,” she said.

She bought new jeans, tops, bras and underwear. “I had been wearing flowy tops before but now I’m wearing fitted shirts,” she said. Still, Sterba said she is keeping 80% of her old clothes just in case she gains back the weight.